Geocgi complements US Coast Guard Vessel Channel Delineation and Waterway Management Strategy

Published: April 29, 2024

The United States Coast Guard (USCG) serves and protects our ability to safely navigate our nation’s waterways. This is an enduring challenge given the broad scope of potential issues facing the Coast Guard, including naturally occurring physical changes in waterway landscapes and physics, dynamic political and economic conditions, and vessel mishaps including collisions and pollution near Aids to Navigation (ATON).

Image: Publicly available AIS Vessel Traffic from 2022 (left) and a higher resolution output used for determining a better estimation of channel line(s) and ATON placement (right). Long Beach, California

With ships becoming  larger and the importance of shipping transport in the United States growing, it is vital to manage and maintain safe passage especially at our busiest seaports. The Waterway Analysis Management System (WAMS), designed to strengthen the USCG modernization mandate and provide a data and geo-forward strategy, is receiving new spatial data products with help from geocgi.

Image: Inland bathymetry surveys comes in all shapes, sizes, and years. Depicted here is the process of using the collective footprint of surveys within a waterway determine the total coverage of bathymetry but allowing more recent surveys to take precedence. A simplified logical view of the survey “Quilting” process (top) showing overlapping surveys being converged into one inland survey for a given waterway. Note that the Red survey is the most recent survey and therefore is prioritized over any other survey. Also, a quilted inland bathymetry survey is overlaid with high resolution vessel traffic (below) used for extracting the shallowest portion of the waterway used by the largest ships.


We recently developed a vessel waterway dataset leveraging historical ship traffic and positional records (via Automatic Identification Systems (AIS)) to determine commonly traversed portions of coastal and inland waterways. The dataset is the next best available source for determining safe waterway routes in the absence of channel lines. Channel lines are widely available for most important coastal waters, however, are more difficult to find for inland waters.

The geospatial data used in the vessel waterway dataset fall squarely into the category of “Big Data”; massive spatiotemporal datasets which show individual vessel track lines over the period of one year. It is therefore an ideal candidate for scripting, distributed processing, and Artificial Intelligence.

Esri’s GeoAnalytics tools are one option geocgi is using to tackle these demands. These capabilities function alongside high performance computing resources to make the hurdle surmountable. The result of this processing is a high-resolution visualization of vessel behavioral patterns. This data can help determine changes in local waterway geomorphology and other potential hazards which captains are avoiding.

The historical vessel waterway dataset does more than simply display navigation routing;  they also help determine other risks and potential hazards within the waterways of the US. For example, coupling vessel traffic and bathymetry helps assess minimum depth and ship draft requirements. Channels may be altered by natural erosion and siltation deposits filling in dredging lines. The image below depicts the operation used to stitch together inland bathymetry surveys; prioritizing highest resolution and most recently available data.

Additionally, geocgi is studying vessel movement trends at bridges and other crossings with the goal of providing the USCG with a “between-pylon” measurement estimate. Pylon approximation will help determine the size limit for vessels that can safely navigate a particular bridge or crossing. We’re excited to be able to provide this support to the US Coast Guard. The geocgi team has compiled and processed a modern visualization of waterway usage, which has strengthened Coast Guard situational awareness, and enhanced their ability to meet the Marine Transportation System Management mission.